UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) recently polled 505 high school principals whose schools were representative of all U.S. public schools on the topics of:
- Political division and hostility;
- Disputes over truth, facts, and the reliability of sources;
- Opioid misuse and addiction;
- The threat of immigration enforcement;
- The threats of gun violence on school campuses.
Here is some of what they found and recommend:
- Eighty-nine percent of principals report that incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has considerably affected their school community.
- Eighty-three percent of schools see these tensions intensified and accelerated by the flow of untrustworthy or disputed information and the increasing use of social media that is fueling and furthering division among students and between schools and the communities.
- Sixty-two percent of schools have been harmed by opioid abuse.
- Sixty-eight percent of the principals surveyed say federal immigration enforcement policies and the political rhetoric around the issue have negatively impacted students and their families.
- Ninety-two percent of principals say their school has faced problems related to the threat of gun violence
In the face of these societal challenges, it is students themselves who bear the brunt of the impact. Many students feel greater anxiety, stress, and vulnerability, and parental opioid misuse and aggressive immigration enforcement have both resulted in greater material deprivation for young people—unstable housing, insecure food supplies, and a lack of other necessary supports.
School principals are also impacted. The average principal in the study reports spending six and a half hours a week addressing the five societal challenges. One in four principals spend the equivalent of one workday a week responding to the challenges. That time represents lost opportunity costs, taking time away from efforts to meet students’ academic needs and enhance the quality of teaching and learning.
The report closes with a call for relationship-centered schools that attend to the holistic needs of young people and their families, while building social trust and understanding. We recommend:
- Establish and communicate school climate standards emphasizing care, connectedness, and civility and then create practices that enable educational systems to document and report on conditions associated with these standards.
- Build professional capacity within educational systems to address the holistic needs of students and communities and extend this capacity by supporting connections between school-based educators and other governmental agencies and community-based organizations serving young people and their families
- Develop integrated systems of health, mental health, and social welfare support for students and their families.
- Create and support networks of educators committed to fostering care, connectedness, and strong civility in their public education systems.